Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve did a little bit of word association after her team’s practice Monday. She gathered her players and asked them what a healthy Rebekkah Brunson brings to the team.
Tenacity was mentioned. Toughness. Doesn’t quit. Rebounding. Defense.
The Lynx should get a little bit of all of that Tuesday against visiting Atlanta in the first game following the All-Star break. Brunson, out all season since having right knee surgery May 13, should be in the lineup against the Dream.
The announcement was tempered by the news that guard Seimone Augustus, who is battling left knee bursitis, likely will miss her eighth consecutive game and her ninth overall. But Augustus is close, and should return Friday against San Antonio.
Brunson, though, is ready to bring …
“Energy,” Maya Moore said. “We automatically get more energy. Whether it’s a rebound, a blocked shot or a steal, an aggressive defensive presence. She brings a swagger to our team that you absolutely notice when she steps on the court.”
For Brunson, about to start her 11th WNBA season, it’s been a long wait. But it was worth it, she said. Brunson has been battling the knee problem for a long time; pain was a constant presence last season. But now, she said, she feels better than at any point last year.
“I had to be patient, but you have to trust the process,” she said. “I did that. I think I’m in a good position right now. I’m super excited to join the team.”
Brunson took the final steps toward her return over the weekend. With Reeve and her staff and three teammates in Phoenix for the All-Star Game, Brunson stayed in Minneapolis and did some work against some of the men who practice with the Lynx during the season. Then, on Monday, she did her first full practice, running full-out, full-court.
“Pain-wise I feel great,” Brunson said. “My body feels great. [The challenge] will be getting into the flow of the offense, the defense. It would have been nice to have more time to practice with the team. But I’ll have to get it on the fly.”
It comes at a good time. The Lynx, beset at the start of the season by knee injuries to Brunson, Devereaux Peters and Monica Wright, also have had to contend with Augustus’ injury. Still, the team has the same 17-6 record it had last year through 23 games. Brunson will return Tuesday, and Augustus on Friday, which will give the Lynx 10 games to jell before the playoffs begin.
The team is still two games behind Phoenix (18-3), which has won 12 consecutive games, including two victories over Minnesota.
But Minnesota is getting healthier at the right time. The team still has two games left with the Mercury, including a July 31 game at Target Center that could prove significant.
Everyone involved with the Lynx feels there is plenty of time for Brunson to shake off the rust, for Augustus to get healthy, for the team to be peaking.
“Ten games, 11 games with this group?” Reeve asked. “It’s enough to get us playing great basketball. Not just good basketball, good enough to win a game. But great. That’s what’s on the mind of our players. And getting those two back in the fold is a big part of us getting there.”
Brunson’s return should shore up the team’s rebounding, which has been a problem at times. She is also the team’s best interior defender, and her return to the starting lineup will allow rookie Damiris Dantas to come off the bench, making the Lynx deeper.
But, perhaps more than anything, Brunson’s return makes the Lynx a tougher team. That word association showed the team knows it.
“It was all toughness, tenacity, intensity,” Augustus said of Brunson. “Things we’ve been missing, a little, on the floor. It’s nice to have her back in the rotation.”